News / Asia

Cambodia Takes First Step in Connecting Regional Railways

Riding the rails in western Cambodia: The driver of a
Riding the rails in western Cambodia: The driver of a "flying carpet" and her passenger head west towards the town of Pursat in central Cambodia along the buckled line in late October, closely followed by another flying carpet. This line will be upgraded
Robert Carmichael

Trains have started running on a stretch of Cambodia's once-defunct railway. The news marks the first time in years that trains have run commercially in the country, and moves the dream of a pan-Asian railway much closer.

Decades of conflict shattered Cambodia's infrastructure - its roads, ports and railways.

In recent years some of those assets have been rebuilt, and last Friday at Phnom Penh's railway station, the finance minister presided over a ceremony to mark the resumption of the rail service.

Rebuilding Cambodia's infrastructure

Cambodia's rail network has long been the missing link in the dream to connect Singapore by rail to Vietnam and China, and ultimately to Europe.

War and neglect meant that what remained of Cambodia's 600 kilometers of rail system was in such poor condition that the last rackety trains were reduced to crawling along buckled tracks at five kilometers an hour.

Rebuilding the network will cost $142 million, the bulk of that financed with a loan from the Asian Development Bank. Much of the rest is funded by the Australian government and Phnom Penh.

Putu Kamayana, the ADB's country head in Cambodia, predicts that Cambodia's decision to award a 30-year railway concession to an Australian company, Toll Holdings, will pay long-term dividends in more areas than just rail services.

"That's a very big step and a very bold step by the government, but certainly by also improving the transport infrastructure it will improve ultimately Cambodia's competitiveness in the global economy and promote foreign direct investment into Cambodia," he said.

Last Wednesday, Toll's local subsidiary, Toll Royal Railway, took journalists on a refurbished passenger train from Phnom Penh to the town of Takeo, some 50 kilometers south of the capital.

Toll Royal Railway Chief Executive David Kerr was on the trip.

Currently most of Cambodia's freight moves by road. Kerr makes it clear the new rail service will aim to take freight off the roads and put it on the less polluting rail network.

"There's certainly a train a day in cement alone, so there's a significant amount of cement in Cambodia. And then linking in with the ship calls - the feeder services to China, America and via Singapore. And so we'll develop our strategies in cooperation with the shipping lines to develop that service," Kerr says, "There's large volumes of salt that move through Cambodia, as well as domestic and export rice, as well as sugar cane.

One benefit will be that the country's roads will likely become safer and last longer. And Kerr says the rail service has already cut road freight rates by one-fifth.

But since freight is where the money is, regular passenger services might not ever resume.

Upgrade to a passenger service


Toll's first step was to improve a 110-kilometer stretch of track that runs south of the capital to the town of Touk Meas. That is the stretch that opened last week. The next piece of track, running 140 kilometers from Touk Meas to Sihanoukville port, is slated for completion in May.

A train moves out of Phnom Penh along the refurbished line running south to the town of Touk Meas in late October. The homes of people living alongside the track will be demolished in due course.
A train moves out of Phnom Penh along the refurbished line running south to the town of Touk Meas in late October. The homes of people living alongside the track will be demolished in due course.

Once that is done, Toll will start to upgrade the 390 kilometers of line that runs west out of Phnom Penh via Battambang before entering Thailand. That is to be done in 2012.

After that the only gap on the pan-Asian railway will be the section between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. The two governments have agreed to construct the link, but work has not yet started.

Any large infrastructure project generates winners and losers. Here the losers include the local entrepreneurs who run informal railway services on short stretches of the buckled line in western Cambodia.

Their machines are known as norries, or "flying carpets," and are easily visualized - think of a large bamboo bed laid on top of two sets of steel wheels.

Passengers sit on this bamboo bed with their luggage. There are no seats and no sides, and the flying carpet, powered by a small engine, can scurry along the line at 40 kilometers an hour.

It takes only one minute to disassemble a flying carpet. That is just as well since when two of them meet on this single track, etiquette demands that the driver carrying the lighter load dismantle his flying carpet to let the heavier vehicle pass.

Prak Phea has worked this stretch outside Pursat town, about 200 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, for 16 years, and earns up to $50 a week. He knows about the rail upgrade, but has not yet decided what he will do next year for work.

The rules of the infrastructure upgrade mean that anyone affected must be compensated. An annoyed Prak Phea says most of the norrie drivers in other towns were paid $250 each, but just four of the 15 on his stretch of line got anything since they were not told when or how to register.

He says that when people came to register them, he was in Pursat. So he missed the chance and did not register, and that means he will not get compensated.

The ADB's Putu Kamayana promises the bank will take that up with the government.

For the next 12 months, however, Prak Phea can carry on earning a living on this battered stretch of line.

But as surely as the whistles of the freight trains leaving Phnom Penh signal the rebirth of a proper rail service for Cambodia, they also sound the death knell for two decades of flying carpets.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs